I’m always amazed at how my mom can transform simply ingredients into the most flavorful and complex dishes. During a recent visit, she made this eggplant curry* for dinner. My family loved it so much, we made it again, but this time together, so that I could jot down the recipe to share. The first time she made it for us, it was just simply an eggplant curry. The second time around, we added a potato for added texture and flavor and I think I liked it even better. My mom prefers using frozen coconut that you can find at most Indian grocery stores but she says that dried (unsweetened) coconut would work just as well. It may seem odd to have sugar in the ingredients list for such savory dish but a mere 1/2 teaspoon helps to bring the dish together by balancing out some of the flavors. I stuck to my mom’s original recipe but it might also work with a little grated carrot or red bell pepper. I hope you’ll give it a try.
12-14 small eggplants, roughly 1 1/2 pounds
1 medium sized yellow potato, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon plus a pinch salt, divided
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1 tomato, quartered
1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 inch of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 cup fresh cilantro, plus additional for garnish
1 tablespoon coconut (frozen or dried unsweetened)
pinch of asofoetida**
3/4 teaspoon ground red chili, divided
3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric, divided
2 teaspoons dhana jeera spice (ground coriander and cumin)
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Remove the tops off the eggplant. Slice into halves or quarters depending on the size of the eggplants (you are aiming for generous bite size) and place the eggplants in a bowl of water to prevent from browning. Peel and slice the potatoes into thin pieces roughly the same length as the eggplant pieces.
Warm a tablespoon of oil in a large pan. Remove the eggplants from the water and add to the pan along with the potatoes. Add a pinch of salt, cover and let cook until soft and tender.
Meanwhile, in food processor, pulse the peanuts until fine (you want a very small crumb but not peanut butter!). Add the tomato, onion, garlic, ginger, cilantro and coconut to the food processor and pulse until a smooth paste forms. You may need to add a tablespoon or so of water to thin out (see picture below).
In a medium sized pot (dutch oven works well), warm the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add a pinch of asofoetida. This next step may seem unnecessary but I triple-checked with my mother — it is essential. Next, add only a 1/4 teaspoon of red chili and turmeric and gently warm the spices. This sort of “blooms” the spices and gives the dish a vibrant color. You avoid burning the spices by not adding all at once. Next, add your puréed mixture from the food processor. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of red chili and turmeric along with the dhana jeera, garma masala, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix to combine and cook until the mixture starts to bubble a bit, roughly 5 minutes.
Add the cooked eggplant and potatoes to the pot and gently fold in. Cook for an additional 5 minutes for the flavors to meld. Season with additional salt to taste. Garnish with cilantro.
* My mother would not use the word “curry” to describe this dish because it’s sort of a generic term that’s often used to describe Indian dishes that Indians rarely use:) However, I still decided to call it an eggplant curry because it is recognizable and gives you a sense of what you can expect.
** Asofoetida or hing is quite an interesting spice. A little goes a long way! Check out this article to from NPR to learn more about it.